When he eventually emerged to address the public after a night of major defeats, Zoran Zaev addressed one person in particular – his Municipal Minister Goran Mileski.

The little noticed leader of the Liberal-Democratic Party is still formally part of Zaev’s ruling coalition but broke ranks with him in the local elections and formed the coalition “Determined for change” together with another small coalition partner – the green DOM party. They also courted Pavle Trajanov’s DS party – which, like DOM, is a notoriously unreliable ally, but he chose to remain with Zaev, at least for the time being.

While it could be strange that parties that are still part of the ruling coalition to campaign “for change”, the gamble worked to some degree. Mileski ran for Mayor in his native Bitola, and won over 3,000 votes. Zaev kept going back to this race in his remarks, pointing that his candidate in Bitola, politically linked businessman Hristo Kondovski, lost by about 2,000 votes to the VMRO-DPMNE candidate Toni Konjanovski and the two will go to a run-off.

The LDP votes in Bitola are naturally liberal votes and it is natural that they go toward our candidate in the second round, Zaev said, ordering Milevski to return to the fold, and reminding him that he needs to continue to support the ruling coalition in Parliament.

LDP have two seats in the Parliament, and DOM and DS have one each. Zaev only has 62 seats – of 120 in total, meaning that his coalition partners just made a serious shot across his bow and are openly asking to redefine the terms of their contract. Milevski famously sought to be made head of the coalition list in the 5th electoral district during the past two general elections, but was denied this, while Zaev poached candidates from his party, such as the former Mayor of Centar Andrej Zernovski.

LDP and DOM also tried to increase their negotiating power with a run in Skopje, where they used a formerly SDSM friendly singer Arben Shaqiri, who was denied a position as head of a cultural center by Zaev, and microbiologist Nikola Panovski who gained fame during the corona pandemic, to win several thousands votes in the mayoral and council race – votes that Zaev needs to get back for the mayoral run-off vote. Shaqiri already said that he can’t command his voters, but that personally, he will vote against Zaev’s candidate Petre Silegov.

The last time these parties were in the news so much was in 2015, when DS and DOM, who were then allied with VMRO-DPMNE, pulled their support from Nikola Gruevski and effectively blackmailed his Government for the duration of Zaev’s Colored Revolution. This experience must be in Zaev’s mind, as he faces the biggest political crisis of his almost five year term.